Through its partnership with Familysearch.org, Ancestry.com added millions of records from the Netherlands to their website this week. Just search the Card Catalog for databases with ‘Netherlands’ in the title. The new record sets include:
- Netherlands, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1910 (in Dutch) [6.2 million records]
- Netherlands, Select Marriages, 1565-1892 (in Dutch) [1.4 million records]
- Netherlands, Select Deaths and Burials, 1668-1945 (in Dutch) [0.6 million records]
Great news right? Well, maybe not so much. There are several problems with these record sets that severely limit their usefulness and will even cause major errors in family trees.
Problem 1: No information about provenance
The first problem is that the description of these record sets are very vague. The Ancestry.com description just says they were obtained from Familysearch. The description of the first data set is: ‘This collection includes birth and baptism records from Netherlands.’ It has a link to the description on the data set on the Familysearch Wiki, where it says:
It is not necessarily intended to index any specific set of records. This index is not complete for any particular place or region. This collection may include information previously published in the International Genealogical Index or Vital Records Index collections.
The individual index entries do not reveal where they come from, which means we cannot evaluate their reliability. An entry distilled from a family tree has a totally different reliability than an index entered by a group of volunteers working from the originals, trained by an archivist. Without knowing where these index entries came from, we have to regard them as unreliable.
Problem 2: No information about coverage
The description of the databases does not say which towns are included and which towns are not. This means we cannot draw any conclusions from negative results. We don’t know if we didn’t find the marriage record because a person wasn’t married at all, was married elsewhere or because the town wasn’t indexed.
Problem 3: Artificial combination of sources
The fact that church records (<1811) and civil registration records (>1811) have been dumped together in one database is a bad sign. These are two totally different administrations, with totally different degrees of reliability.
Problem 4: Missing places and dates
There are many records in the first set that just name a person with his or her spouse and child, without a date or place. If you look carefully, the name of the child is a link, which will take you to the detail page of the child, which will have its place and date of birth. But how many people will notice?
Problem 5: Missing churches and religions
The baptismal records do not include information about the church where the child was baptized, or even the religion. This makes it harder to trace the original record to verify the information from the index.
Problem 6: It’s just an index
The databases are just indexes, without scans of the original records. This would not be a problem if the index provided enough information to retrieve the original record, but since there is no source citation we don’t know where to look for it.
Problem 7: ‘Burgerlijke Stand’ is not a village!
The last problem may be the most damaging of all.
In several instances, I have seen ‘Burgerlijke Stand’ in the ‘birth place’ or ‘baptism place’ field. See the example below, where the person is said to have been born in ‘Burgerlijke Stand, Arnhem, Gelderland, Netherlands.’ However, Burgerlijke Stand is the Dutch term for Civil Registration. Saying someone was born in Burgerlijke Stand, Arnhem is like saying that someone was born at the Register of Deeds, New York. It does not make sense.
To me, this last problem is the most severe and has the potential to wreak havock among trees. I see a whole range of new erroneous birthplaces come up, just like with Reusel-De Mierden. People will attach these records to their trees, which will make this erroneous birth place show up in trees and be multiplied from there. How many new brick walls will be introduced when people cannot find the birth place ‘Burgerlijke Stand’?
While I applaud Ancestry.com and Familysearch’s efforts to make as many records as possible available to us, I do not think this is the way to do it and caution anyone who intends to use these records to be very careful and double-check all the findings.
There we go: 2,338 people with “burgerlijke stand ” as place of birth in public member trees already.
I created an infographic of these and other errors.